Are you looking to become a true master of the Korean language?
Immersion is without a doubt the most effective way to learn Korean, and the options are endless to reach your goals: Korean dramas, apps, comics, K-pop songs, movies, blogs and more.
Yet, the harsh reality remains: You need some structure to nail down the basics.
You need to understand the elements of the Korean grammar, conjugation and fundamental vocabulary. And that’s where textbooks come in.
Korean textbooks are an essential component of a successful Korean learning strategy.
And for legitimate reasons—Korean textbooks are designed for non-Korean speakers by Korean teachers and language experts who know the most effective way to learn the Korean language.
Textbooks are a great way to supplement immersive learning by focusing on the foundations.
However, selecting the right textbook isn’t always a walk in the park.
So to make this part easy for you, we’ve chosen eight of the best Korean textbooks out there and shown what each has to offer. Take the time to review them and find one that works for you, based on your fluency level and personal preferences.
8 Amazing Korean Textbooks for Effective Korean Learning
1. “Ewha Korean”
This series of textbooks from Ewha Woman’s University is the Bible of all Korean learning textbooks. Widely used both in Korea and abroad, these well-structured, step-by-step guides make learning Korean fun and approachable. Covering six levels of fluency and focusing on all four skills, the Ewha series is particularly powerful if you’re studying by yourself.
Each textbook uses plenty of images, colorful vocabulary boxes and straightforward explanations of basic and complex Korean grammar. If you’re looking for a no-time-wasted approach to language learning, look no further.
A glance at the table of contents alone sets the right tone. Instead of just listing out the functions covered, it provides an exciting and instructive overview of each point that will be introduced, just like ready-made flashcards. Considering the quality of these explanations, you can also use it as a study recap once you have finished the book.
The textbooks themselves are cleverly designed. Each unit is divided into relevant topics, such as family, food, hobbies, daily schedule, looking for an apartment, etc. There are lots of personal touches in there, such as the series of friendly, recurring characters whose stories support each lesson and dialogues. Units also include listening scripts and answers in case you’re struggling with certain dialogues.
Each unit includes a “Try it” section which focuses on speaking without too much memorization. The books also incorporate a unique (and yes, revolutionary) approach to teaching Korean grammar, using targeted questions to prompt students to think about a grammar rule rather than be told about it. This will allow you to learn about grammar in context using pictures, examples and even thought bubbles to summarize the point.
In addition, textbooks in the Ewha series include a fascinating culture and literature part to introduce learners to aspects of the Korean civilization, while also growing their communication skills.
Be sure to use the textbooks with their accompanying audio CDs for pronunciation practice. A smart way to do this is to pause after a sentence and repeat it out loud until you nail the pronunciation. It’s a very effective way to familiarize yourself with the sounds of the Korean language and memorize new elements!
2. “My Korean 1” and “My Korean 2”
Monash University’s “My Korean” textbooks by Young-A Cho, In-Jung Cho and Douglas Ling are a fantastic introduction to modern Korean, with a special focus on spoken usage for everyday situations. They are available for free download under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License, but you can also check Amazon to see if the individual textbooks are currently available for purchase.
Developed with the support of the Korea Foundation, “My Korean 1” and “My Korean 2” are very useful textbooks that are also available for free online. Each including a PDF and audio version of the textbook, they adopt a four-skill approach to learning Korean using situation dialogues, comics and easy grammar explanations.
The textbooks are organized into 10 units composed of three situation dialogues, grammar explanations and various activities—such as role plays, listening and writing. The textbooks also feature some very useful appendixes that summarize fundamental grammar, conjugation and writing points.
Considering the importance of grammar in the Korean language, these textbooks focus on giving learners a good working knowledge of basic structure and grammar of the Korean language, plus a limited number of commonly-used vocab. So make sure to supplement this one with a good vocabulary textbook or, better yet, by reading comics in Korean.
Ecomix has a great selection of authentic 만화 (South Korean comics) and novels to boost your vocabulary. The first volume is generally free, with the rest of the series for purchase. To get started, simply create an account by clicking the header on the right, then select 회원가입 (membership), add your information, and click on any title you like to start reading.
3. “Integrated Korean”
Developed collaboratively by Korean classroom teachers and linguists, “Integrated Korean” is another popular Korean textbook series that uses performance-based principles and tools to improve learning, including contextualization, authentic materials and balance between skill acquisition and effective use.
Integrating a four-skills approach and a step-by-step methodology to learning Korean, it covers five levels of fluency over 10 volumes (Beginning 1 and 2, Intermediate 1 and 2, Advanced Intermediate 1 and 2, Advanced 1 and 2, and High Advanced 1 and 2).
Each format tends to differ based on the targeted level of fluency, but all cover a wide range of interesting topics relevant to modern Korea. All textbooks also incorporate situation-based lessons supported by a conversational reading text, a glossary with clear annotations, vocabulary notes, lists of useful expressions, culture points and notes on grammar usage.
Ample examples are given to help learners understand usage in context, which is definitely helpful. Every chapter ends with a related reading passage to expand on a given topic with new insights and more vocabulary.
Considering that these textbooks are bilingual and incorporate English translations, “Integrated Korean” can be easily used for self-study. Make sure to complement your efforts with their accompanying workbooks to maximize the assimilation process.
If you’re studying by yourself, it could also be beneficial to also use these textbooks alongside a variety of methods focused on listening practice. Watching authentic videos or listening to podcasts in Korean on a regular basis can make a difference in your level of fluency, as well as creating a fully immersive experience. FluentU, an online immersion platform, is offering videos in Korean—so don’t miss this opportunity!
Start using FluentU on the website or download the app from the iTunes store.
4. “Once Upon a Time in Korea”
“Once Upon a Time in Korea” is ideal if you’re looking for a fun learning experience. For students with limited knowledge of Korean, this highly colorful and visual textbook uses stories as the medium of choice to start your exploration of the Korean culture.
The book is a collection of 23 chapters, each centered around a unique Korean folktale written in Hangul. Often humorous and always including a moral, each story makes for a learning experience that is both cultural and instructive—while also providing a glimpse into Korean values and social etiquette.
Each lesson also incorporates beautiful illustrations, cultural notes and—rather than translating each text line by line—very extensive vocabulary lists to help you understand the difficult words you’ve read in the stories. There are also handy appendixes so you can review Korean sentences and irregular verbs at a glance.
This book is perfect for beginners looking to improve their knowledge of Korean through compelling storytelling, simple vocabulary and sentence structure.
To accompany “Once Upon a Time in Korea” and make textbook learning an even more immersive experience, make Korean part of your daily routine (if you haven’t already). For example, change your phone or Facebook interface to Korean, or start shopping regularly at a Korean market if you can find one nearby.
5. Seoul National University’s “Korean”
What’s not to love about a fun textbook that truly elevates your learning experience by providing a comprehensive overview of grammar and vocab? The Korean textbook series made by Seoul National University (SNU) is an excellent balance of interactivity, structure, fun and rich content, and challenge!
This is a do-it-all textbook which is well structured, nicely designed, suitable for self-study and takes you through Korean grammar without compromising vocabulary.
With a focus on listening practice, each lesson is accompanied by its own recordings, which are offered on CD and as downloadable MP3 files. Covering a wide variety of topics in an engaging way, the textbooks from SNU incorporate a wealth of detail and knowledge based on the learner’s stage of fluency.
The glossary, too, is packed with information. A great complement to the lessons, each book has its own detailed word banks which include the word, its meaning in English, examples in context, and even in some cases the hanjas that compose the word.
To maximize outcomes, be sure to complement this textbook with effective communication practice. Verbling lets you find a Korean tutor near you, or alternatively you can find a Korean language exchange partner online. Be sure to outline your goals from the start and ask yourself what kind of partner would be most beneficial for you.
6. “Learning Korean Through Traditional Fairy Tales”
If you’re bored with old-fashioned manuals, this magical reading textbook may be just the right book for you!
Based on the principle that reading authentic content can help you learn a language more effectively, this book is best for intermediate students looking to improve their reading, listening, speaking and writing abilities using a variety of entertaining activities.
The real beauty of this unconventional textbook is its collection of inspiring illustrations and use of audio recordings to tell the Korean folktales and introduce learners to Korean culture.
The fairy tales are sorted into three sections: instructive and interesting stories with a moral behind them, mysterious folktales with a fantasy elements and classical Korean fairy tales.
Each chapter starts with a series of pictures based on the tale’s story. Then, the learner has to describe each image and put them in the right order before listening to the story.
Each recording is about five minutes long and gets progressively longer. They’re very well done, with numerous speakers acting the part and sounds to make it seem like you were there. This is definitely a great way to make listening practice fun and interesting!
Then, the textbook introduces a vocabulary list which also breaks away from the conventional. It introduces a word, lists an example in context, and then asks students to guess the meaning of the word. The transcript on the following page lets learners make an effort before reading the content, and is followed by practice exercises for maximum learning.
We particularly love the variety of content used in this textbook, including interesting activities, games, quizzes and proverbs. Make sure to complement your textbook learning by using the audio CD. Not only are audiobooks a fantastic language-learning tool to help you stay on track with the goals you’ve set, but this particular textbook makes it fun and lively to follow these unique stories.
7. “TOPIK 어휘로 잡아라!” (Conquer the TOPIK via Vocabulary!)
Sometimes, especially when you’ve focused on grammar and structures, all you need is to learn old-fashioned vocabulary lists to communicate your thoughts with greater accuracy.
A very comprehensive vocabulary book to prepare for the TOPIK (or just to expand your Korean vocabulary), this one eases the learner into intermediate Korean through words of high frequency.
Listing out vocabulary, their meaning and model sentences, this no-frills textbook helps you broaden your understanding of common Korean words. Targeting students preparing for the TOPIK, this textbook includes sample test questions which follow the format of the exam.
We particularly love the section dedicated to 사자성어 (4-character idioms), 관용 표현 (idioms) and 속담 (proverbs) tested in previous exams, which are hard to find anywhere else.
If you plan on using this textbook, be sure to pair it with some real-world reading practice to make your learning more comprehensive. Choose an article from Naver’s news section, print it and look up any unknown words using Naver’s bilingual dictionary and take notes. Alternatively, head to the bilingual column section of Joongang Daily for translations of popular Korean articles to do the same.
8. “Korean Language for Academics in Business Administration”
If you have enrolled in a Korean business administration class and don’t know what to expect, this can give you some great preparation. This textbook is good for advanced non-native Korean speakers who are studying business at a Korean university, and want to be more fluent and natural.
It begins with a useful overview of the South Korean education system, including how classes are structured, tips on taking notes, how to write a report, how to get good grades and how to register for classes. It also details the language commonly used by professors in classrooms, which is particularly enlightening considering that these are elements you won’t find in traditional textbooks.
Comprised of 14 highly informative chapters centered around the basics of business administration (marketing, economics, HR, etc.), each lesson begins with a description of the subject in Korean before jumping right in.
We can’t praise enough how well structured this textbook is. Each lesson has a glossary of main terms with their definitions, charts and boxes with associated questions, a detailed article discussing the topic, listening practice and even more exercises, similar to what you’d find in actual Korean business administration classes.
Be sure to complement your textbook learning with some instructive Korean business podcasts and news shows. Head over to SBS and KBS for a vast selection of authentic segments on topical subjects to keep you current and informed.
Textbooks can be a great investment, but they’re useless if you don’t use them. So choose a textbook (or two) that looks interesting to you, use it regularly, and complement it with a variety of learning methods.
잘 해보세요! (Good luck!)
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